You already know that Country is usually more lyric-driven than Pop; and for the most part, gives a writer more opportunity to tell a story. But the listener has to be able to go away with the song in their head and that means your melody. It has to stick! The phrase “you can’t whistle a lyric” comes to mind. It's true in every style of music.
So...how can you come away with something fresh, interesting, and impossible to get out of someone's head? There are lots of points to focus on, but I’ll pick my top five. Maybe being able to have fun in the process like the young writer in the picture shoulda been number 1.
Nothing gets more boring than hearing the same melodic rhythm throughout the whole song. There are lots of things to try, from doubling up the amount of notes in the chorus to trying the opposite. Short notes in the verse, long notes in the chorus, half time in the bridge, stops, builds, anything to “mix it up”.
2) Length Of Phrase
Similar to the rhythm fixes in that you want to mix it up. If every melodic section has the same amount of lines and words per line, it’s gonna get old quick. Try tapping out the words and make sure your sections are not all the same.
Another place your melody can bog down is the range, or lack of. One of the reasons we respond to some songs and singers is the emotion they put into the melody. If your melody is rooted in one area throughout, it’s hard to get it to take off. There are a million hits that feature the same chord changes from verse to chorus with the chorus being an octave up. Drama!
4) Your Comfort Zone
Learn to leave it. For me it’s always been about trying different instruments, tunings, and most importantly listening to some music thats different than what I’m working on. If you write rock, listen to classical, jazz, country, opera...you’ll be surprised by how much will creep into your melodies. I’m not talking about sitting down and dissecting every style of music, just letting it seep in. I think you are your influences. The wider your influences, the more chance of blending all of yours into something unique.
Don’t sit down and say this melody fits here because of the chord change or this is just how I do it. Take some time to let that subconscious in. That’s where it can go from being “nice” to magical. It's also one of the ways your voice as a writer comes in. Simple idea is to record your melody at any stage and just let it loop. At home, in the car, running errands. Just give it time to be the best it can be.
Where do you find your melodies and what are you listening to now?
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Dedicating all my blogs this year to the memory of John Braheny. I still ask every songwriter or artist I coach to pick up his book before we start talking.
There is also a college scholarship in John's name, through the California Copyright Conference (John was a past president)...here's the link:
Mark Cawley's songs have appeared on more than 15 million records. Over a career based in LA, London, and Nashville his songs have been recorded by an incredibly diverse range of artists. From Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Wynonna, Diana Ross and Chaka Kahn to The Spice Girls, Tom Scott, Kathy Mattea, Paul Carrack, Will Downing and Pop Idol winners in the UK. He has had #1 records in the UK and throughout Europe as well as cuts in Country, Jazz & R & B.